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High court strikes order for new Barry Beach trial

HELENA (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court said Tuesday that a judge was wrong to release Barry Beach from prison two years ago and order a new trial in the 1979 slaying of a teenage girl.

The Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling reversed a Lewistown judge's 2011 decision that found new evidence raised doubts about Beach's guilt.

Beach had been in prison since the 1980s since his original conviction for the murder of a 17-year-old girl on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. A long list of advocates persistently argued he had been wrongly convicted based on a coerced confession and said evidence instead pointed to an out-of-control fight among teenage girls.

Beach was reached Tuesday evening at work in Billings and had not yet been taken into custody.

"I've only found out five minutes ago," Beach told The Associated Press. "Honestly right now I don't even know what it means."

John Barnes, a spokesman for the attorney general, said he couldn't comment on whether Beach will be arrested. He said state prosecutors were reviewing the court's ruling.

The Supreme Court's decision said the new witnesses do not outweigh the original evidence and confession presented at Beach's trial. The majority of justices said Judge E. Wayne Phillips failed to closely consider that original evidence.

"After a review of all the evidence, we conclude that Beach did not provide reliable evidence of his actual innocence that displaced the trial evidence and his conviction," Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice wrote for the majority.

The Supreme Court noted that the state Clemency Board had previously considered the new witnesses and also rejected them as compelling enough to overturn the conviction.

In his original confession, Beach said he tried to kiss Kim Nees and became angry when she fought back. He described hitting her with a wrench and a tire iron, then thinking, "Oh my God, what have I done?" after checking her pulse and finding she was dead.

The three dissenting justices argued that the district court judge, who interviewed the new witnesses, was in a better position to weigh their credibility. They argued Beach should be granted the new trial.


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